Mogadishu, the capital of SOMALIA, is the nation's largest city and major seaport. During the long civil war that ravaged Somalia in the 1980s and 1990s, large parts of the city were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of its inhabitants fled to other towns and to the countryside.
Mogadishu was founded in the A.D. 900s as a Swahili and Arab outpost on the Indian Ocean. By the 1200s it had become the most important town in East Africa. A major trading center, the town grew considerably during the 1300s and had a large population of rich merchants. After visiting Mogadishu about 1330, the famous Arab traveler IBN BATTUTA wrote about its great size and its wealth.
For centuries Mogadishu was an independent city-state ruled by its own sultans. In the mid-1800s, however, it came under the control of the sultans of Zanzibar. They rented the city to the Italians in 1892 and sold it to them in 1905. The Italians made Mogadishu the capital of Italian Somaliland. The city remained under Italian control until after World War II, and then the British took it over.
When Somalia gained its independence in 1960, Mogadishu became the capital of the new nation. The city grew rapidly, nearly doubling in size between 1965 and 1974. Many of Somalia's exports, primarily fruits and animal hides, passed through the city, and it supported a number of industries, including food processing, textiles, and cosmetics.
Mogadishu suffered tremendous damage in Somalia's civil war. A three-month struggle in 1991 left burned-out buildings and dead bodies scattered throughout the city. At least 400,000 people fled to the countryside. International peacekeeping forces were unable to bring order to Mogadishu. In 1994 they pulled out, leaving the city still in a shambles. (See also Colonialism in Africa.)